By Firmain Eric Mbadinga
Marie Edu, a young Cameroonian based in Côte d'Ivoire, is about to retire for the night when she gives what seems like an unusual response to those wishing her "a good night's sleep" or "sweet dreams".
"I don't have dreams," Marie declares. She isn't kidding. Marie doesn't know what it is like to "dream" in the conventional sense. Even if she has had one, the young woman has zero recall of the experience.
"Around me, I hear comments and accounts from people about their dreams, but I have never even had flashes of it. I don't have images in my memory to show that I have had a dream, no! So, I can say that I don't dream," Marie tells TRT Afrika.
There are people like Marie worldwide whom a section of experts would call "non-dreamers". However, psychoanalysis continues to debate whether anyone can technically spend a lifetime without ever seeing a dream.
Isabelle Arnulf, head of the sleep pathology department at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, recently told the health section of the magazine Ça m'intéresse that a mere 0.38% of the world's population can be considered true non-dreamers.
In her explanation, the neurologist and university professor distinguishes between "people who dream but rarely remember it" and those who have no dreams for unknown reasons. The first category constitutes between 2.7-6.1% of the population.
A sleep doctor and psychiatrist, Pierre Geoffroy, says that not dreaming is possible, albeit extremely rare. Most people dream but don't remember it. Several studies have shown that if you wake up in the middle of the night, you can write down a certain number of dreams. True non-dreamers are incapable of doing this.
All in the brain
In Marie's case, having become aware of her condition, she thought of researching to find out if she was normal and if other people like her couldn't dream.
"At almost 30, I haven't encountered anyone who tells me they don't dream. And I confess that I don't say it to everyone to avoid being laughed at," she says.
Although Marie only went some way with her research, scientific information is available from experts and specialist journals.
In theory, a dream is defined as "psychic production occurring during sleep, and which can be partially memorised".
There is also a consensus among researchers that it is possible to lose the ability to dream. The latter can be a direct consequence of a stroke, brain damage or trauma that causes the brain to repress the traumatic event "as a sign of protest".
People who don't dream anymore, or don't dream at all, in one way or another, encourage us to look at dreams differently, to see them as something we can't necessarily take for granted.
Abstraction of reality
In Africa, as in the rest of the world, all dreams are seen as having meaning. Just as the meaning comes couched in layers of complex images that must be decoded, traditional narratives centring on dreams can be diverse, depending on a range of ethnocentric factors.
At the same time, scientific interpretation derives a great deal from Sigmund Freud's seminal work in 1899.
Freud basically sees dreams as the expression of a mostly unconscious desire. Before and after him, dreams have also been subject to extensive analysis through the prism of religion and culture.
In more recent times, Marie's quest for an answer to why she couldn't have dreams opened the door to the vastness and complexity of the subject.
Indeed, the abstract reality of dreams has fascinated humankind for ages and, in some cases, found a way to meld the world of the imagination with the physical one in which we live.